Reggio Emilia uses an emergent, project based approach. In-depth projects use first hand investigation and research. They capitalize on children’s natural curiosity and allow children to learn more about how the world around them works. Through project work, children learn to collaborate with their peers, build confidence, ask and answer questions, and build perseverance. Project work does not constitute the entirety of our curriculum at KRC, however, it is a part of our daily schedule. Read on to find out more about how KRC has adopted an emergent curriculum and the project approach.
What is an emergent curriculum?
Emergent curriculum follows the interest of the children. Educators come up with topics of study after observing what their students are interested in during play, and also through dialogue with children and their families. Teachers use the resources of their colleagues and work together during planning meetings to review their notes in order to determine relevant and important areas of study. Topics should be relevant to students and accessible in their environments. A topic should not be too broad, or too specific. Once a topic is decided, the project begins.
How does a project develop?
At KRC we use The Project Approach For All Learners by Sallee J Beneke, Michaelene M. Ostrosky, and Lilian G. Katz, in order to guide our project planning.
First, co-teachers meet to develop a teacher web outlining possible content, learning outcomes and objectives during a project. They link these learning objectives to the curriculum standards. Teachers discuss what materials will be needed during the project, brainstorm how to involve families and the community, discuss possible field experiences and first hand investigation opportunities, and map out where the project might lead. Teachers also set up an area of the classroom that will be used to record and document the project. This allows students to keep track of what they are learning, share ideas and knowledge, record their experiences, engage in meaningful discussion, and make connections between their personal experiences and those of their peers. Once this is done, the first phase of the project can begin.
In Phase I of a project, teachers plan an opening event. This event allows teachers to assess what knowledge children have about the topic and to record any misconceptions as well. An opening event can be something like reading a book about the project-topic, singing a song related to the topic, sharing photos, telling a personal story, or having guests visit.
The classroom is set up with a variety of activities to help children show what they know about a topic. A prime example of this is through dramatic play that is related to the topic (this is especially important in the younger classes). Teachers can record student conversations or actions while they engage with the open-ended materials and dramatic play equipment provided.
Children are invited to represent their knowledge of the topic in a variety of ways. In Reggio Emilia they believe that children have 100 languages. The child can express their knowledge through body movements, drawings, paintings, clay sculptures, mosaics, and much more. Some children may know a lot about a topic, while others may not know much at all. The children who are more knowledgeable can act as in-class experts to share their knowledge with their classmates.
In small and whole groups, the class discusses the topic of interest. The students share their ideas and vision for the topic. Small groups are where longer, more in-depth discussions take place. During this time, the students will learn how to cooperate and communicate effectively with their peers. Around this time, teachers start to identify questions that the students have. These questions can provide the foundation for the project investigation in phase II. Children are encouraged to make predictions about the answers to their questions, and also to brainstorm how they can answer those questions.
Finally, children and their teachers will make a topic web. This is separate from the student web, and the students are involved in the process of creating it. This web is not a time to correct incorrect answers that the students give. All suggestions are recorded, and the next phase of the project is a time to confirm or correct the information presented.
Families are involved from the beginning of a project. Either through a newsletter, email, or informal informational meeting, teachers communicate with families about the project topic and how they can support the investigation. Parents have the opportunity to contribute materials, or volunteer their time in the classroom. Family involvement is a core part of the project and Reggio Emilia approach.
In Phase II of a project, teachers develop lesson plans that help children conduct research to answer their questions. Authentic child research is the core of the project approach, and the teacher acts as facilitator and co-researcher in this process. A teacher is tasked with the job of providing opportunities for children to investigate a topic in order to answer questions, and also first hand experiences to fuel their curiosity. This is why it is so important to choose a topic that allows for firsthand observation and investigation.
Teachers will provide children with authentic materials and artifacts. These will be things such as tools, accessories, or samples of things related to the topic. Children will explore these materials and discuss their uses. Teachers can also add props and materials to dramatic play areas and then use a form of guided play to support children in their understanding of the topic. Materials are carefully chosen and introduced, along with new vocabulary. Materials that allow children to use their five senses and fully engage are beneficial to a project. For example, when learning about roads, a teacher might bring in samples of cement vs. asphalt for students to feel and manipulate.
Throughout the classroom the teacher will provide a variety of materials that will allow children to represent what they are learning. For example, a maker-space can be used to create 3D designs. Or a clay station can encourage sculpting and models. Or clip boards, pens, and pencils, can be accessible in all areas of the classroom. These representations can be done individually or in small groups of students. Sometimes they will take place without teacher guidance, and sometimes a teacher will work with students to help guide and further their understanding.
Books, informational videos, and forms of research will be carried out in order to answer student questions. The teacher will teach children strategies to investigate. Helping children use new vocabulary, record new information, share this information with their classmates, check books for information, and answer open ended questions will further the investigation and teach children that they are capable scholars and investigators!
Guest speakers and field work are crucial to the success of the project approach. Inviting guest speakers to visit the class and share their knowledge and experience, or going on a field trip, will increase student interest and help them learn more about the topic. Before having a guest speaker come, teachers prepare students by informing them about the person, and helping them develop questions to ask. After a guest speaker or a field trip, children spend time reflecting on what they learned and record any new information that was introduced.
The final phase of a project allows children to summarize and share their knowledge. They look back at their learning during the course of the project and revisit the topic web in class. Teachers help children determine if most of their questions and wonderings have been properly answered. If the answer is “yes,” then teachers help students decide on a concluding event. This event could be the creation of a book of their knowledge, inviting another class to listen to student presentations about the topic, inviting parents to come see student work, putting on a play that demonstrates student knowledge, and much more. Children are engaged in planning for and organizing the final event. This phase of the project is really a time for the students to shine and show off all their hard work and knowledge.